January 20, 2000
volume 11, no. 14

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    Pat Ludwa, a committed lay Catholic from Cleveland, has been asked to contribute, on a regular basis, a lay person's point of view on the Church today. We have been impressed with his insight and the clear logic he brings to the table from his "view from the pew." In all humility, by his own admission, he feels he has very little to offer, but we're sure you'll agree with us that his viewpoint is exactly what millions of the silent majority of Catholics believe and have been trying to say as well. Pat puts it in words that help all of us better understand and convey to others what the Church teaches and we must believe.

    Today Pat addresses something that seems to be misunderstood: scruples. Many mistake it as being overly cautious and seeing things that aren't there, seeing sin when there is none and presuming God will punish the person for the sin. That is one extreme. The other end of the spectrum is not worrying about anything at all, presuming God will forgive anything and everything. In today's column Pat points out that we need to find the middle road and encourages close scrutiny without dwelling on it for endless hours. He refers to "scrupulosity" as being careful and upright, not hesitant or being overly scrutinizing. And, backing it up with Scripture, shows that A little scrupulosity can be a good thing! in his column today. For past columns by Pat Ludwa, click on VIEW FROM THE PEW Archives   If you want to send him ideas or feedback, you can reach him at

A little scrupulosity can be a good thing?

    A young man sat among his friends during their high school graduation ceremony. His parents and family were in the audience with camera's ready to record his graduation. As he rose and made his way to the stage, he saw his friends and classmates receive their graduation diplomas. When his turn came, he received a certificate of participation, not a graduation diploma. His family was shocked, and he was shattered. For four years he'd been promoted to the next grade. For four years he thought everything was on track. No one told him anything was wrong. Now, on what should have been a day of joy and pride, he and his family were filled with sadness and shame. What happened?

    In other places, students are graduating from high school. As they enter college though, they find that they can't understand the text books. Their papers are being torn to pieces over grammar, spelling, sentence structure, and content. Employers are finding it difficult to find employees ready to enter the work place. Even in the military, officers are being given classes on basic English in their basic courses because of the rash of misspelled words, etc. What happened?

    What happened is what has been happening in many parts of the world. Some are not enforcing the standards that do exist, and in other places, others are lowering the standards that do exist. In many parts of the US, educational profiency tests are showing that students are woefully lacking in basic skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic. For many, this has called for them to call for a change of the tests, not a change in the educational system. If the tests shows that 50% of the kids can't read at the level they should, the problem is not with the kids or the system, but the test.

    For others, the standards remain, but in order not to offend or damage a child's ego, they're allowed to continue as though nothing is wrong, until it's too late. Why? Are we telling our children that they're incapable of attaining a standard and holding to it? We're not only telling our children that in education but in life as well. In many states, the sex education classes are coming under fire. Many want a sex ed class that emphasizes abstinence, not prevention. Many call this absurd and dangerous. That some 60% of teens (according to some polls) are engaging in sex and therefore we need to teach them how to have sex while avoiding sexually transmitted diseases (STD's) as well as pregnancy. Are we telling our kids that they're too weak, too animalistic to control their sexual impulses? Many say that it's unrealistic to expect teens to control their sexual tensions until their wedding night. I wonder how they'd feel if their son's and/or daughter's were the object of someone's releasing their 'sexual tensions'?

    But there is a standard that we are called to hold to.

    "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).

    Pretty tough to do, especially when we also read that: "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41).

    We are called to perfection. We are called to live a life in accordance with God's will. But today, we hear of many saying that that's being too hard on ourselves; t hat we are being far too scrupulous. Basically, the term means to imagine that something is a sin, when, in fact, it isn't. Or a sin is venial, while one thinks it's mortal. However, today, many feel that being scrupulous means that we see anything as a sin. Recently, in the "Today" show, an author said that even the Pope said that there was no such thing as hell. (I seriously doubt that he quoted the Pope correctly) And that when we meet God that we'll be surprised that we worried about anything, worried about sin at all!

    "Have fun, do what you like, when you like, how you like. God loves you too much to punish you."

    Now obviously, the opposite can be bad as well. We read how people used to scourge themselves in atonement for sins. Where 'anything' done in pleasure, was a sin.

    Either extreme is a sin of presumption. Presuming in God's mercy to the effect that we can do as we please without consequences, and presuming in God's punishment in condemning ourselves over the smallest of sins? Plain and simple, presumption is a sin.

    I heard a homily where the priest recounted a confession he heard from child. Evidently, the child confesses to adultery. It was obvious that she didn't understand what adultery meant. But she obviously did something that caused her distress and guilt. Something she 'defined' as adultery. Maybe she snuck a cigarette or a sip of Dad's beer. Wrong? Yes. A serious sin? No. Did she get a correct teaching from her confessor? Or did he 'implicitly' ridicule her for her confession?

    Is a "little scrupulosity" a bad thing? I don't think so. Better an error of commission than omission. I'd prefer to hear that I confessed a sin that wasn't a sin, than sin and dismiss it.

    We all sin, we all fall. Some of our falls are minor, some are major. Some are habitual. But isn't it better to shoot for a higher set of standards rather than lower the standards to suit our needs and wants?

    We try, we struggle toward perfection. Very few attain it, if any. In fact, if the lives of the saints are any indication, the closer we come to God, the more 'scrupulous' we become. Saints who we see as living perfect lives, considered themselves the worst sinners.

    But we're telling our children, and ourselves, that this is an unattainable goal, an impossible standard. For us, it is, but not for God. Therefore, we 'work' toward that goal of perfection.

    "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13).

        "Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified" (1 Corinthians 9:26-27).

    If we don't try to holds to these standards, are we truly doing as God wants? Or are we doing what we want?

    "They all look after their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 2:21).

    So, working toward the high standards God has given us, we know our weakness and acknowledge that.

    "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" (1 John 1: 8-10).

    So, we rely on the Lord to forgive us, strengthen us, and help us attain our goal.

    "Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
        Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own. Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature be thus minded; and if in anything you are otherwise minded, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained"
    (Philippians 3: 8-16).

    So, with this new year just about three weeks old, let us strive toward perfection. Not relying on ourselves, but God. Not to our interests, but God's. Let us make a resolution to strive to be perfect, as our Father is perfect. Working out our salvation with fear and trembling and hoping in His love and grace to bring us to our goal. Perfect love and peace with God in Heaven.

Pax Christi, Pat


January 20, 2000
volume 10, no. 14

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